Canada: Another Week, Another Attack on the Cannabis Industry 3/10/06

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The Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper has only been in office for a few weeks, but it is already sending strong signals that cannabis and cannabis-related businesses will be the subjects of unwanted government attention. Last week, the Chronicle reported on Canada's first major bust of a seed-selling concern, and one of the people we interviewed was Chris Godwin, proprietor of the Up in Smoke cannabis café in Hamilton, Ontario, on the lakeshore about 50 miles southwest of Toronto.

Up in Smoke Cafe rally poster
On Wednesday, Up in Smoke was raided, and Godwin and two employees were taken to jail. Godwin is charged with possession and trafficking in marijuana, one employee was charged with possession and trafficking cookies containing marijuana, and the other employee was charged with marijuana possession. The bust happened when a plainclothes police officer entered the business as Godwin and two others were sharing a joint. The employee actually holding the joint was charged with possession. Police seized the store's computer and cash register, as well as Godwin and the cannabis cookie-selling second employee.

Godwin is a prominent marijuana activist and no stranger to the Hamilton police, who have made at least 200 visits to his shop since it opened 18 months ago. The shop sells seeds, bongs, and pipes, and allows smoking (or vaporizing) in a lounge on the premises. At least 30 Up in Smoke customers have been charged with marijuana possession as a result of those police visits.

But charging Godwin and his employee with drug trafficking offenses takes things to a whole new level. While police characterized the bust as a local operation, it comes during a week where the Conservative government has been taking pains to talk tough on drugs.

In an interview with the Ottawa Sun, new Justice Minister Vic Toewes called for mandatory minimum prison sentences for violent criminals and some drug offenders, complaining that monitoring people on probation or parole is a "very expensive proposition." A few days later, his spokesman, Mike Storeshaw, made it clear that the Conservative government would not move to decriminalize marijuana, as the Liberals had tried for the last several years. "It is a short answer and the answer is no," he responded to a question. "We have no plans to bring any bill forward."

Last week, Prime Minister Harper used the occasion of the anniversary of the Mayerthorpe massacre, where four Mounties were killed in a shootout over stolen property but marijuana growing was widely blamed because the shooter had a small garden, to hammer home his party's law and order theme. "Our government is committed to ensuring the safety of Canada's communities," Harper orated. "Specifically, that means making sure that those who break the law will face the appropriate punishment, and providing law enforcement agencies with the legislative tools and financial resources they need to protect Canadians. We will do our best to ensure that tragedies similar to the one which unfolded near Mayerthorpe last year will never happen again."

Up in Smoke was open for business again Thursday, but given the chill coming from Ottawa, Godwin and all the rest of Canada's thriving cannabis trade entrepreneurs must be beginning to wonder what will come next.

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Issue #426 -- 3/10/06

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